I will soon be attending an “agent roundtable.” Here I will sit with six other authors, and we will have our manuscript’s first 750 words critiqued by an agent and the other authors at the table. There are also two marked “networking” opportunities during breakfast and lunch with the agents. We will be able to query these agents (several of whom are otherwise closed to queries) for two months after the event. Do you have any tips on how a shy, clueless woodland creature (who has never attended anything like this before) can make the most of this opportunity)?
oh god this sounds like hell.
I've DONE this to authors and it still sounds like hell.
In fact, this kind of thing is what prompted this post for one of the Rules for Authors: Be Brave
But there you are, all set to march into hell so here are some things to remember:
1. Do NOT argue. Not with the agents, not with the other authors.
2. Take notes on what is said. That means bring a SEPARATE note pad and pen for this critique. Do not use your regular writing notebook, or anything else that you need to use during the rest of the conference.
Here's the reason for that: you're going to take those notes, and then put them away for a while. Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month.
Going through one of these kinds of critique sessions can shatter an author. Otherwise good advice can't be heard if you're in shock. Or tears. Put the comments away and get them out again when you've had time to regain your poise.
Even if you feel ok, don't read them right away. Give yourself some time to absorb the conference. Do NOT obsess about the critique. Tell yourself you will read the notes later. Give yourself a date if you need to.
Example: I will not think about the notes until After Noon on Tuesday. Say that out loud to yourself every time you feel your mind sliding back over to the obsession place.
Time to think and reflect and absorb the experience will help.
If you absolutely can not follow this advice and you read the notes and feel yourself falling into wallow: PUT THE NOTES AWAY. Have a drink. Eat a chocolate. Watch Love Actually (twice if need be). Then get BACK to the conference and get some new experiences in your head to divert your brain.
3. Don't expect anyone to say anything nice, ever. It's a whole lot easier to find things that don't work than to find things that do.
4. If they do say nice things: BELIEVE THEM. Do NOT fall in to the trap of "they're just saying that to be nice."
5. It's entirely possible everyone who critiqued your manuscript is wrong. It's entirely possible they're godawful readers. If you get notes that you think are clearly wrong wrong wrong, don't doubt yourself first. Consider the notes coolly (later) but have confidence in yourself.
6. The most helpful thing early readers can do is tell you if the manuscript starts in the right place. Pay close attention to comments that say "my interested engaged HERE" and it's not sentence one, page one.
7. The other most helpful thing early readers can tell you is if your writing doesn't have energy. Using words that are tepid, with sentences that are too convoluted (or just plain too long) drain energy from a book. Listen for critiques that mention those kinds of things.
8. Even if your writing sux, you do not suck as a writer. Every writer alive and dead has written things that suck. It's part of the process. It's a necessary, horrible terrible no good no fun part of the process. Your writing will get better. It will get better as you do more of it, and as you develop your ability to evaluate critiques from people reading your work. You're at the start of that right now. You will get better, but ONLY if you keep going.
And, let us know how it goes ok?